Austin-area barbecue excursion
I hit a lot of spots for 3 1/2 days. I appreciate the guidance from various people on the board, who tipped me off to places that I never would have heard about. This was my quest to find some meat and assess conventional wisdom.
I liked the amiable service at this college-oriented place, but the meats in my chicken/rib combo werent as good as the sides. The chicken was decent on the outside, but leathery on the outside. The ribs were a little better but the exterior had a glazed feel from too much cooking. The spicy beans were great, and I enjoyed the mustard potato salad.
Louis Muellers, Taylor.
This was superb. Some joints pander too much to tourists or, on the other extreme, are a bit too proud of their surly authenticity, but this is the real deal whether youre a local or an outsider. Perhaps the owners are so confident about their superb meats that they dont have to play those silly no forks games.
I got the beef rib/brisket/pork rib combo. The giant, juicy beef rib was stunning, and the brisket was phenomenal. Although the meats dont need sauce, the sauce was quite unique - it was really more liquid than sauce, and was on the spicy side. I guess you could put sauce on the bread. The beans had subtle meatiness.
Southside Market, Elgin.
The famous sausage wasn't all that exciting. The flavor was pretty good, but it wasn't as hot as I expected, and was too greasy. I also got the mutton ribs. This was the second time I've ever had mutton ribs, and the first was in Owensboro - both times they were greasy so maybe that's how they're supposed to be. The exterior parts had an ideal balance of fat and peppery smokiness. The sweet tea wasn't sweet enough. The chicken looked great but I was already above my meat quota for the day.
Taylor Cafe, Taylor.
I arrived at 9PM. There was nothing left but regular sausage and turkey sausage. I got the turkey sausage, which was excellent. Who knew?
Brisket was superb, the pork loin and chicken were very good. I also liked the black-eyed peas. I'm not sure why there was no crowd - maybe because it was around 11:30AM on Sunday.
I went with the fatty brisket instead of the lean, and it was great. The sausage was pretty good, but a bit too greasy. There was very good sweet tea. This place offered the best opportunity to see smoldering logs.
City Market, Luling.
The brisket here was nearly identical to Smitty's in texture. It had a slightly stronger smoke flavor. I also got pork ribs. The meat was very good; the "no forks" thing strikes me as necessary. The sauce was very good - it was a little bit lighter in color so maybe it was mustard-based? They had iced tea with Nutra-Sweet and lemon - this was better than I expected.
Not only is this another "no forks" joint, but the provincial vibe is heightened by the sign on the door about how every third salesman will be shot. Then again, maybe they just get lots of annoying salesmen trying to sell smoking machines. There are two choices for brisket - I got the one that is more popular, apparently the leaner one. The exterior was great, the interior was similar to roast beef. I like roast beef, but it didn't feel as uniquely Texan as some of the other briskets. The sausage was very good - similar to the others in taste but superior in texture. The pork chop was miraculous. It was huge so I thought I wouldn't be able to finish it. But I paced myself. It was probably the best pork chop I've ever had - it wasn't laced with any fancy adornments; it was just basically meat and smoke. No sauce required.
Salt Lick, Driftwood.
After driving around the woods at night, I eventually found this place. It inspired me to contemplate the correlation between "authentic" and "good." I was curious to see whether the naysayers were correct. I liked the wood-bench ambience and service right away. I ordered the rib/brisket/sausage combo. As for the brisket, I probably would have been very pleased if it wasn't my ninth barbecue meal in three days. But the restaurant didn't give the meat a fair chance, since everything was sauced up. The sauce had more impact than the brisket. I liked my pork rib a great deal, it was closer to the K.C. style than Texas. As for the sausage, it seemed more processed than most of the others, but I liked it better. I'm not a purist. The beans were o.k.; the potato salad was first-rate...kind of like mashed potatoes with interesting flavors.
Good report! Amoung my BBQ friends, I'm not considered a purist, because I love the sides and chopped beef.
My fave is Louis Mueller's BBQ. They have the best(!!!!!!)chopped beef sandwich.
I've tried all the places in Lockhart and I was thinking there is one you didn't mention, that I thought had great black peppery sausage. But, I've tried most places in central Texas and I could be wrong about the location. I have to start writing stuff down.
I'm glad you tried the Saltlick. I think the recipes for the coleslaw and potato salad came from the asian mother. The saltlick restaurant is really involved with the community and sponsors/donates to a number of benifits in Austin.
I've never found Southside's or Smitty's sausage "too greasy." But, then again, I've never considered the Salt Lick's links--which you accurately describe as "more processed"--anything special. So we may be looking at a simple difference in tastes.
Great report, JerseyGuy. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a better line-up of barbecue joints to hit in a 3.5 day period. (When you come back, though, you ought to allocate some time and stomach space to the mesquite barbecuing country west of Austin.)